Robert Dudley, Professor

Open (1) How do hummingbirds breathe, drink, and fly at the same time?

Open. Apprentices needed for the fall semester. Enter your application on the web beginning August 15th. The deadline to apply is Monday, August 27th at 9 AM.

Hummingbirds, the most diverse group of nectar-feeding vertebrate animals and the tiniest warm-blooded flyers, have evolved unique flying abilities that allow them to feed efficiently on thousands of flowers daily. To support their extreme lifestyles, hummingbirds rely on fast-paced physiological functions. The highest vertebrate metabolic rates ever measured have been recorded from hovering hummingbirds, using a method known as 'feeder-mask based respirometry', which we will use in this project.

To meet the oxygen demands of hovering, the most costly form of locomotion, hummingbird metabolism is supported by efficient air sacs within the avian respiratory system. A vast body of research has addressed trade-offs between ventilation and locomotion in a variety of animals, ranging from insects to humans, but there are no studies on hummingbirds.

Examples of our intended experiments include: 1) Studying how breathing rates and the resulting metabolic rates differ when birds are simultaneously hovering and feeding, hovering only, and feeding only (i.e. while perching); 2) Testing for significant correlations between ventilation and drinking; and 3) morphological (e.g. 3D scans) and performance modeling (e.g. mechanical power output of flight and metabolic input related to feeding efficiency).

Duties and learning outcomes for the Undergraduate Apprentice will be discussed and tailored to each apprentice, but could include laboratory assistance, operating high-speed video and metabolic assessment systems, fieldwork, digitization (R, Matlab, or ProAnalyst) of video sequences, and computed tomography (CT) scans reconstruction, segmentation, and 3D modeling.

Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Alejandro Rico-Guevara, Post-Doc

Qualifications: Required: Attention to detail, good organization skills, punctuality, enthusiasm, and interest in biomechanics, physiology, and/or comparative morphology. Desired: Completion of introductory biology courses. Applicants are encouraged to submit the application with short statement that includes any background that may be relevant for the position. A current transcript, schedule, and CV may be requested by e-mail.

Weekly Hours: 6-8 hrs
Related website:

Closed (2) A Global Estimate for Insect Biomass

Closed. This professor is continuing with Spring 2018 apprentices on this project; no new apprentices needed for Fall 2018.

Insects are the most diverse and abundant form of animal life in the terrestrial biosphere, rivalling humans in their global biomass. However, good quantitative estimates for the world's standing mass of insects are missing. This project will involve analysis of the ecological literature to extract data on insect biomass for each of the world's major biomes, followed by algebraic scaling of geographical surface area to obtain a global estimate. This number, in turn, will be compared with existing data sets for human and plant biomass to assess the overall ecological impact of the insects.

Duties for the Undergraduate Apprentice will include downloading and extracting data from numerous scientific papers, compiling spreadsheets for biomass and geographical data, and conducting comparative analyses of the results. Learning outcomes will include increased familiarity with methods of data analysis, learning to write a scientific paper for publication, and increased conversancy with concepts in biogeography, insect diversity, and terrestrial ecology.

Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Robert Dudley

Qualifications: Required: Completion of introductory biology courses, ability to download and analyze scientific articles using Google Scholar. Desired: Knowledge of entomology and ecology; some GIS skills. Applicants are encouraged to submit their application along with a short statement that includes any background relevant for this position, along with a current transcript and curriculum vitae.

Weekly Hours: 6-8 hrs

Related website:

Closed (3) Biomechanics of Gliding in Arboreal Geckos

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I am using a vertically oriented wind tunnel to simulate gliding in small geckos (detailed description below). Currently, the wind tunnel is either too variable or too slow to simulate gliding in the geckos that are available to me. The project is to modify the wind tunnel or its airflow to better control its speed and uniformity.

Description of Research:
Any organism that lives in a tree risks falling to the ground. There are many consequences that an organism might face if this were to happen, such as injury or death upon impact with the ground or dangerous encounters with other organisms. As a result, many arboreal organisms have means to influence their body orientation and trajectory as they fall so as to control their descent and minimize the negative repercussions. This project seeks to understand the biomechanics of controlled aerial descent in arboreal geckos by using high-speed video to record and track the movements of Hemidactylus geckos while gliding. Geckos will undergo a gliding simulation on a vertically-oriented wind tunnel. These organisms lack dedicated airfoils, yet they have substantial control of their fall. Understanding such a system may lead to insights regarding the origin of flight in vertebrates.

Tasks: The apprentice will be responsible for designing and implementing the modifications to the wind tunnel.

Learning Outcomes: The apprentice will develop problem solving skills and gain practice in designing and implementing his or her product. The apprentice will also gain experience in collaborating with biologists as well as knowledge in the subjects of biomechanics and morphology.

Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Erik Sathe, Graduate Student

Qualifications: Required: Knowledge of fluid dynamics, attention to detail, patience, good organization skills, and good problem solving skills. Desired: Completion of fluid mechanics course. Applicants are encouraged to submit the application with short statement that includes any background that may be relevant for the position. A current transcript, schedule, and CV may be requested by e-mail.

Weekly Hours: 6-8 hrs

Related website:

Closed (4) Analyzing Variation in Bird Wing Bone

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Believe it or not, bone is incredibly dynamic: our bones change in shape and strength just in the course of your life. Unfortunately, some of those changes are bad: bone becomes brittle with age. In developing ways to treat/prevent these changes, one approach is to look at organisms that don't have those problems. Birds put their bones through even rougher trials that we do, yet seem to do okay. We look at three feats of olympic strength that birds manage: 1) Egg-laying (calcium for the eggshell comes from bone!), 2) Migration (bi-annual bird marathons), 3) Hovering (the weight-lifters of birds). Understanding how birds manage these trials could help us develop treatments for human bone disease.

Opportunities for students in the biological and engineering sciences. Actual activities will vary based on student background/interests, but can include dissecting bird bones, analyzing CT scans, performing materials tests, or developing code in Matlab to increase analysis efficiency.

Additionally, I need an engineer / tinkerer to design and creation of a temperature of a temperature controlled drip system, probably making use of an Arduino, but I am open to ideas. I expect this person to operate independently.

Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Leeann Louis

Qualifications: Required: Interest in bone biology and/or biomechanics. Would come in handy: Experience with Matlab, Arduino, imaging, or materials testing. When you apply, please let me know what made you interested about this position! I work best with people who are interested in the work, or just love learning new things. I might request your transcript and/or CV by e-mail.

Weekly Hours: to be negotiated